Jewish leaders respond to antisemitic cyberattack on NY Jewish school

DIASPORA AFFAIRS: One Jewish school’s logo was recently replaced with a swastika on its homepage.

AN NYPD officer stands guard ahead of gathering in solidarity with the victims of a fatal antisemitic attack in Monsey, New York, during last Hanukkah, December 2019. (photo credit: AMR ALFIKY/ REUTERS)
AN NYPD officer stands guard ahead of gathering in solidarity with the victims of a fatal antisemitic attack in Monsey, New York, during last Hanukkah, December 2019.
(photo credit: AMR ALFIKY/ REUTERS)
NEW YORK – New Yorkers remain on edge following the antisemitic cyberattack that took place at a Jewish high school in Great Neck on December 14. As the FBI continues its investigation, Jewish leaders are speaking out about proactive ways to mitigate further incidents.
“Nothing like this has ever happened in my hometown. I’ve never experienced antisemitism before,” Dina Silberstein told The Jerusalem Post. Silberstein, 37, is an alumna of North Shore Hebrew Academy, a Modern Orthodox yeshiva in Nassau County. On the fifth night of Hanukkah, the academy’s website was hacked, compromising students’ private information and targeting the community with antisemitic threats and slurs.
On the school’s homepage, the North Shore logo was replaced with a swastika, the background image was changed to a Nazi concentration camp and the school’s name was modified to “North Shore Hebrew Concentration Camp.” Its address was changed to that of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
On another page, the hackers posted a picture of Hitler titled “Der Fuhrer Adolf Hitler,” and changed the school’s mission statement to read: “[At the] North Shore Concentration Camp… we believe in executing our Jews, not merely deporting them… we don’t want our Jews to continue being rats to finally erasing them from this Earth is much preferred.”
Silberstein, the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, said she learned about the attack when her sister texted photos. “We knew we had to do something, so I reached out to the ADL right away. They told me they had just heard and were in the process of organizing a webinar in response.”
Roughly 200 people attended the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) webinar on Friday, December 18, many of whom are North Shore alumni or parents. The panel, which was about securing schools from cyberhate and online harassment, featured ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and supervisory special agent of the FBI Chris Donohue.
Scott Richman, ADL regional director for New York and New Jersey, moderated the panel. Richman told the Post that the webinar was targeted to parents, but was also open to the general public.
“We took inspiration from the fact that this attack happened this week because we received many calls from parents who are concerned, but this webinar is useful for everybody. Cybercrimes don’t just happen in school settings, but schools are particularly vulnerable,” he said.
“The webinar was a major part of our response to what happened at North Shore, because it’s not just about this one school. Of course we want to assist the school, but I also want to go beyond that and use this as a teachable moment,” Richman continued.
“Our goal is to educate everybody on cyber crime so they are aware and also can learn concrete ways to mitigate either before it happens or when it does happen and what to do afterwards. This is an all hands on deck effort and people need to understand what’s going on.”
Silberstein said the webinar was “informative.”
“It was good to hear firsthand how law enforcement and ADL staff approach these things. We heard about ADL’s task force which specifically tracks online groups they’re keeping an eye on, like white supremacists.”
She noted that the discussion did not touch on how New York State authorities respond to antisemitism. “That would be good to hear because now that I live in Manhattan, I’m kind of in a microcosm,” she said.
The state reportedly sent its Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services’ Cyber Incident Response Team to assess the school’s cybersecurity practices. The FBI took over the ongoing investigation on December 16.
“This antisemitic attack is simply despicable, and the fact that it came as the school community celebrated Hanukkah makes it even more repulsive,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “New York State will deploy resources to help the staff, parents and students [of] North Shore Hebrew Academy in the aftermath of this senseless act.”
“By deploying these resources, we are sending a message loud and clear that hate has no place in our state – online or in person – and that New York will always support and protect those targeted for crimes based on who they are or what they believe,” Cuomo added.
Nassau County is home to a significant Jewish population, roughly 230,000 as of 2013. North Shore Hebrew Academy, which serves more than 1,000 children, did not respond to a request for comment.
Evan Bernstein, CEO of Community Security Service (CSS), an organization that has trained thousands of Jewish volunteers in preventing antisemitic attacks, expressed concern over the hacking.
“This is yet another example that shows antisemitism is alive and making a direct impact on our communities. We encourage all institutions to remain vigilant,” Bernstein said. He noted that CSS monitored other reported hate crimes during Hanukkah, including in Kentucky when a Jewish man was run over at a menorah lighting ceremony by a driver yelling antisemitic slurs. In New York City, antisemitic graffiti was allegedly spray painted on a homeowner’s fence on December 16.  
Hate crimes hit their highest level in over a decade last year, according to the FBI. The majority of anti-religious hate crimes, which made up about 20 percent of all reported crimes, were motivated by anti-Jewish bias.
But Richman said that when it comes to cyberattacks, the North Shore hacking stands out.
“We’ve seen a great rise of cyber crimes over the past few years. COVID certainly has brought a lot of Zoom bombing. But we’ve seen nothing of this nature.”